Sal Khan & the Muppets’ Grover Explain the Electoral College

Grover, the more intel­lec­tu­al­ly-aspi­rant of Sesame Street’s two blue mon­sters, is a self-appoint­ed expert on anato­my (“the head is cov­ered with this long stringy stuff”), hygiene, and Span­ish, but the work­ings of the Unit­ed States Elec­toral Col­lege elud­ed him, until Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Acad­e­my wan­dered into the frame.

The pairing’s not as odd as you might think. The Khan Academy’s mis­sion is in many ways quite sim­i­lar to that of Sesame Street—free edu­ca­tion for the peo­ple, dis­trib­uted on a glob­al scale. Both are non-prof­it. The Khan Acad­e­my uses white­board screen­cast­ing where Sesame Street uses Mup­pets, but the goal is the same.

The ener­getic and high­ly dis­tractible Grover would be a chal­leng­ing pupil in any set­ting. Khan, whose teacher-stu­dent inter­ac­tions are rarely so face-to-face, han­dles him like a pro, wise­ly par­ing down a stan­dard issue Khan Acad­e­my les­son on the Elec­toral Col­lege to an eas­i­ly digestible three-and-a-half min­utes.

The take­away?

The Unit­ed States is an indi­rect democ­ra­cy.

Each state awards its elec­toral votes to the can­di­date who wins the pop­u­lar vote in that state.

The num­ber of elec­toral votes in any giv­en state is equal to its num­ber of con­gress­peo­ple plus its two Sen­a­tors.

There are a total of 538 elec­toral votes. In order to win the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, a can­di­date must win at least 270 of those votes.

Sim­ple enough, but this mea­sured expla­na­tion does not com­pute with Grover.

So Khan employs an edu­ca­tion­al Nin­ja tech­nique. “How can I explain it in a way that you might under­stand?” he asks.

It turns out Grover is some­thing of a visu­al learn­er, who’s not at all shy about the work­ings of his own per­son­al brain. He’s prob­a­bly not ready for 8th grade alge­bra, but the Khan Acad­e­my sub­sti­tu­tion method pro­vides a water­shed moment, when Khan replaces elec­toral votes with chick­ens.

(If your frag­ile grasp of the Elec­toral Col­lege process would be mud­dled by the intro­duc­tion of chick­ens, stop watch­ing at the two minute mark. As the pro­lif­er­at­ing com­ments on the Khan Academy’s fifth Amer­i­can Civics les­son prove, some­times the sim­ple approach cre­ates more ques­tions than it answers.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Polit­i­cal Sci­ence Cours­es 

Mor­gan Free­man Teach­es Kids to Read in Vin­tage Elec­tric Com­pa­ny Footage from 1971

Elec­tion 2012: Your Free Tick­et to a Pop­u­lar Stan­ford Course

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • otto says:

    The Nation­al Pop­u­lar Vote bill is 61% of the way to guar­an­tee­ing the pres­i­den­cy to the can­di­date who receives the most pop­u­lar votes in the coun­try, by chang­ing state win­ner-take-all laws (not men­tioned in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, but lat­er enact­ed by 48 states), with­out chang­ing any­thing in the Con­sti­tu­tion, using the built-in method that the Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides for states to make changes.

    Every vote, every­where, for every can­di­date, would be polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant and equal in every pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.
    No more dis­tort­ing and divi­sive red and blue state maps of pre­dictable out­comes.
    No more hand­ful of ‘bat­tle­ground’ states (where the two major polit­i­cal par­ties hap­pen to have sim­i­lar lev­els of sup­port among vot­ers) where vot­ers and poli­cies are more impor­tant than those of the vot­ers in 38+ pre­dictable states that have just been ‘spec­ta­tors’ and ignored after the con­ven­tions.

    The bill would take effect when enact­ed by states with a major­i­ty of the elec­toral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tors from the enact­ing states will be sup­port­ers of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date receiv­ing the most pop­u­lar votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guar­an­tee­ing that can­di­date with an Elec­toral Col­lege major­i­ty.

    The bill was approved this year by a unan­i­mous bipar­ti­san House com­mit­tee vote in both Geor­gia (16 elec­toral votes) and Mis­souri (10).
    The bill has passed 34 state leg­isla­tive cham­bers in 23 rur­al, small, medi­um, large, red, blue, and pur­ple states with 261 elec­toral votes.
    The bill has been enact­ed by 11 small, medi­um, and large juris­dic­tions with 165 elec­toral votes – 61% of the way to guar­an­tee­ing the pres­i­den­cy to the can­di­date with the most pop­u­lar votes in the coun­try


  • Bill W. says:

    Low-Infor­ma­tion vot­ers, enjoy!

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